Skip to main content

Full text of "The Gay Genius"

See other formats

246                             THE GAY GENIUS

lines produces what may be broadly considered the impressionistic
school oŁ Chinese art, in which the artist is concerned with recording
an impression in his mind expressed in a controlling rhythm, rather
than with making a copy of the objects before him. It is natural that
the fewer details there are in a composition, the easier it is to express
or convey this rhythm. Hence Su Tungpo's concentration on a few
sprays of bamboo or a few rugged rocks as adequate paintings in thercJ
selves. The rhythm alone compels the elimination of all material and
all objects irrelevant to the unifying conception. It is perhaps easier
to see extreme examples of impressionistic art in a chicken or a fish
by Fata Shanjen or in an orchid by Shih Tao of the sixteenth century.
Whether it is a picture of a fish or of a chicken or of a bird, Pata,
Shanjen's art may be considered as the art of expressing the most by
the fewest lines and the smallest amount of ink. The artist completes
his picture of a fish or a horse or a portrait in a matter of a few minutes
by a few rapid splashes of ink; he either succeeds or fails, and if 1^
fails, he crumples up the paper, rolls it into a ball, throws it into the
waste-basket, and starts all over again.

This economy of brush work accounts for the spontaneity of
Chinese painting. But the economy of brush work and extreme con-
centration on the main subject also bring other results. Su Tungpo's
painting of a few sprays of bamboo leaves with a barely visible mocn
shining from behind creates two effects. First, because of the absence
of irrelevant matter, It stimulates the imagination of the spectator; and
secondly, it implies that these few bamboo leaves, whether resting,
peacefully in a moonlight night or violently tossing about in a storBgjp
are worth looking at for ever and ever in the delight of the simple
rhythms they express. The purpose and motivation in painting a few
bamboo stalks, a curling line, or a few rugged rocks, are exactly the
same as the artist's purpose and motivation in writing a certain group
of characters. Once the mood is expressed and the impression put
down on paper, the artist is satisfied and pleased. He is therefore able
to convey that same pleasure and satisfaction to people who look at.
the picture.

Hence, this school of scholars'* paintings is also called the school of
"writing out a conception" (shieh yt), which is impressionism. This
word yi is extremely difficult to translate; it means something the artist*
wishes to express; for substitutes we have to render is as "intention",
"conception", "impression", or "mood". It would not be at all in-
appropriate to designate this school of painting by a new term "con-
ceptivism", the idea being emphasis on a unified concept which it is
the sole object of the artist to portray.

The central problem of art is the same, east and west, ancient and
modern.  Impressionism may be briefly summed up as a revolt against